Dir-scr: Xavier Dolan. Can-Fr. 2010. 102mins


The second film from the precociously talented 21 year-old Canadian Xavier Dolan is alternately infuriating and delicious. While Dolan’s visual tricksiness and mannerisms wear on the patience, he does achieve occasional moments of visual poetry and, appropriately bearing in mind his age, captures the despair and longing of young heartache. This time he also laces the angst with a dose of caustic humour missing from last year’s I Killed My Mother.

His intrepid experimentation with visual language is not always successful but suggests great things from the young film-maker in the future.

A ménage a trois that owes as much to contemporary French cineastes like Ozon, Honore and Lifshitz as it does to Jules And Jim, Heartbeats proves that Dolan is no flash in the pan and should build his reputation on the international festival circuit. Sold by France’s Rezo, it should also score sales and find a following with upscale young hipsters and gay audiences.

The film opens with a series of talking heads, who recur throughout the film, telling anecdotes from their experiences of modern love and dating. This sets the scene for the story of two young twentysomething types in Montreal, Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Chokri). He is a sensitive intellectual gay man, she a sharp-tongued woman who dresses in vintage. Both of them are attracted to a young man in their circle called Nicolas (Schneider), a sexy guy with a mop of blond hair who is new in town and looking for friends.

Both fall hard for the outgoing, intelligent Nicolas and each is led on by his flirtatious and tactile manner but neither can work out whether he is gay or straight or interested in either of them. The two begin a duel of sorts in which they try to outdo the other in his affections - buying lavish gifts for his birthday, vying for time with him on his own, showing up at restaurants where they know he will be. Finally when the three of them go to the countryside for a weekend, Francis and Marie get into an all-out scrap.

The film is a timely look at the longings of young single people, the pain of rejection, the excruciating agony of not knowing whether the object of your love loves you back. Nicolas is not all he is cracked up to be, of course, but both Francis and Marie have projected their own fantasies onto him long before they ever ask him what he wants. Christophe Honore’s muse Louis Garrel gives an amusing cameo at the end as another potential amour imaginaire.

Unlike the Mumblecore movement or any run-of-the-mill Rohmer imitators, Dolan doesn’t rely on dialogue to explore his characters’ relationships. His intrepid experimentation with visual language is not always successful but suggests great things from the young film-maker in the future.

Production company: Mifilifilms
French distributor: MK2
International sales: Rezo
Producers: Xavier Dolan, Daniel Morin, Carole Mondello
Cinematography: Stephanie Weber-Biron
Editor: Xavier Dolan
Main cast Monika Chokri, Niels Schneider, Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval